ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Cosmic Humor is what I suppose we can call it. Something I
myself have been tempted to explore. The combinations and
mixes and the rapid pace of the altering styles is one of the main
features of the new wave of Black American fine artists that
emerged in the late 20th-early 21st century.
Invisible Man Thoughts on Summerhill Seven’s
By Dennis Leroy Moore
Craziness on the Sleeve
Sanity is not the goal. Since this book is by a self-proclaimed schizophrenic who inhabits a skitsofrantic life, then the lack of this state of being, often referred to as sanity, would have made these sololoquies impossible. Summerhill Seven, “Trialogue”
I first met Alim Akbar in the summer of 2002 in New York City. I had been asked to direct a play about a group of local gamblers in a Harlem bar and had the arduous task of assisting the producer with the casting. I was not in the best of moods, was recovering from a nervous breakdown earlier that year, and was making a weak attempt at returning to directing plays which I had given up three years earlier in personal pursuit of filmmaking and writing. That summer, and well after that, I constantly had feelings of fragmentation, detachment, and rabid paranoia.
I felt comfortable, however, upon meeting and eventually working with Alim Akbar aka Summerhill Seven. You see, Alim is also a mad man.
I didn’t know much about Alim and still don’t. I know what I have to know and seldom ask or pry into his personal affairs and he seems to do the same. Our paths crossed, we ran in the same circles for a period, got high once or twice together, and even dated the same girl once. The girl was a writer from Chicago. She wasn’t crazy. This poor girl was psychotic and when I told Alim I would quit seeing her if he wanted to date her, he quipped: “Uh-uh, no, no you can have her.”
I know he misses his mother, he was married once, he writes every day like a junkie looking for a fix, he adores Shakespeare, and shares my love for the avant-garde. I always liked the fact that he was a lawyer. He seems to dig that I went to Julliardbut didn’t graduate. We respect one another’s art and the demons that seem to rage within us. Alim was easily the most charismatic and fearless actor I had worked with in 2002 and certainly one of the most passionate and determined actors I have ever known.
We live in a moment in time that is crunched down-held up-sewn within the seams. We are hanging onto dear life in a punching bag that dangles on its last leg. No one is willing to risk it all to express the pain around us. No one is willing to free-fall as the majestic clowns and poets of the old were willing to do. In short, we are all afraid of the good fight. This is a problem far too great for me to go into right now, but one that keeps popping up in my head even as I try to gain distance on the “the scene” in America from Berlin, where I write this.
Alim is easily ten years my senior, we are just barely contemporaries and commentators of the same generation. What I hold inherently sacred and vital to life Alim does as well. This is what attracts me to his writings in his book. You see, at times, I feel like I have written it. (And no, to clarify he’s the schizo, I’m labeled the more fashionably ahem “Bi-polar”)
I readily admit that the Americans have no poets; I cannot allow that they have no poetic ideas.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Part II/Book One
Notes of a Neurotic is an eclectic mélange of poems, humorous interludes, observations, and dramatic fiction. It is designed to “heal the emotions of the reader, the speaker, and the writer.” This book is clearly a work of art that is reflective of the chaos in this world; a journey of an unstable man trying to find his way in this world. It is in many ways the spiritual biography of Alim Akbar. Part manifesto, part confession it is the current analogy in literature to what I tried to accomplish with my 2002 film As an Act of Protest.
And being one of the only artists in New York City to publicly and proudly support my film (he taught it and screened it to his students), Alim’s work shimmers with a similar fever that mine has been dipped in. That is the fever of the split atom, the “crazy” urban black intellectual, the scared revolutionary artistthe neurotic. What I tried to do formally and structurally within my own directorial work Alim has done as a writer. The difference is that where I may or may not have succeeded (my opinion alters depending on the day and my mood) I believe Alim has.
Dashes and flashes of brilliance flicker, for example, in his Schizophrenic “Skitsofrantic Soliloquies” section. These come off as haiku or proverbs or as they have been aptly described as “the fruit of the poet tree.” In “Observation,” he writes:
I find that my life is a lot happier when I avoid white men in robes, whether they are black or white . . . robes.
Writing as an Arab American, he poignantly writes:
George Bush declared war on somebody and I don’t know who and I am losing my mind because everyone I know doesn’t like me and everyone I know doesn’t trust me.
Alim’s wicked and cool sense of humor stands to attention in “Peace,” which easily could have been part of a Richard Pryor monologue in the 1970’s. Check it out:
I prayed for peace and got it!
I was so dam bored I saw a dog and shot it.
The dog came back to haunt me,
Smoking a blunt and drinking coffee.
Can you imagine a dog with a caffeine high?
But cool cuz he has chronic burning in his mind’s eye?
Alim is a theater artist and I say this to re-iterate his approach and style to writing and assembling the works collected in “Notes.” In many ways, I feel relieved that he has begun to accomplish what I was waiting for. A new black literary voice who had one foot in theater, one foot in poetry, and one foot – ‘er hand – in outer space, or somewhere.
Cosmic Humor is what I suppose we can call it. Something I myself have been tempted to explore. The combinations and mixes and the rapid pace of the altering styles is one of the main features of the new wave of Black American fine artists that emerged in the late 20th-early 21st century. Most of us who were interested in expressing his or her own unique voiceparticularly those of us in Northern urban areasdid it in whatever vein we saw fit, even when the moods and shapes changed drastically from one moment to the next.
Some just don’t understand the jazz of our work. Charles Mingus said that for him Byrd was it the greatestsimply because he was expressing how he felt. The greatest self expression abounds in simplicity, and yet its meanings and emotions are so doubled and tripled and full of inborn contradictions and philosophies about life you can experience the work over and over and never get tired of it.
Form follows function in Alim’s Theater of Neurosis. And just when I feel Alim is going along with the flow of the stream and giving in to what the audience wants, he opts to swim his own way. This is his saving grace and what keeps him rooted as an artist. His interest in people, his pathologies, his political convictions, his sexual appetites, his impish desire at times to shock and annoy, most importantlyhis sensitivity to the musical tones of life and the presence of death in our every day existence. In his own unique way, Alim has created a post-modern metropolitan black Spoon River Anthology. Yes. This is another bizarre connection I have to Alim. The River Flows, the 1993 adaption, was the first off-Broadway play I ever did. I played Death himself and was like a character torn from “Notes.” These are not coincidences, for things don’t just happenthey happen justly.
In “Notes,” Alim liberally sprinkles his book with quotes from everyone from Saint Baldwin (James) to the prophetic rancor of early Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and the poetic wisdom of William Shakespeare. These quotes serve to remind the reader of either a theme or concept being explored or expressed and/or to give the actor reading it a cerebral inspiration on the page that may lead him down the correct path as he begins to dramatically interpret and perform a specific text. The booka slim 148 pagesis packed with conceptual ideas, puns, clever plays on words and titles (i.e. poet tree, poemedies, essalogues, etc.) but I am not interested in or willing to indulge us into the meanings behind those phrases or titles or explain how “clever” Alim can be.
Who cares? Real art is not about being clever. It is about expressing how much you know about life. And for all of Alim’s broader appeal (when he performs, my wife refers to him as “the thinking man’s Will Smith” in the sense that he is good-looking and charming enough to be able to garner a willing and very harmless mixed crowd) and his ability to hold court with a potentially more varied audience than me, for example, his strength is not in the trappings and superficial aspects of his more liberal and accessible poetry. No. It is, I believe, in the heart and soul of his prose and monologues-proper. Or what he refers to as his “Essalogues.” This is where Alim excites me the most and where he is at his best.
The short story “Heads” is one of the most provocative and honest pieces in the entire collection. In its Raymond Carver-esque minimalism, tongue-in-cheek bravado, and muted satire, Alim’s narrator recounts how he killed three white people (a racist punk, a lawyer, and a landlady) and is completely at wits end working and living with white people. They are simply too much to deal with and they do nothing but constantly aggravate and annoy.
The entire ideawhether it is treated humorously or with straight up tragic insinuationsof killing white people or the “oppressor” is one that has infiltrated and consumed a great deal of modern Black American art work. It runs through the plays of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, the music of Public Enemy, and has been finessed and relayed masterfully by composers such as Bob Marley and is hinted at within the canvasses of the painter Aaron Douglas. Not literally, but in spirit.
Even my own early work constantly wrestled with my own anger and frustration over what to do when living in a racist society. Alim’s treatment of the matter is less directly heavy handed, however, and not as tragic. It is much more absurd and has the maturity it takes to see the scenario through a simple and clean filter: it’s all a day’s work. The humor is venomous and already present in the opening paragraph:
I mean the idea of killing four white people in the twenty-first century
just for what, to redress some historical wrong? I just simply was not with it.
But now, that I have already killed three, I am starting to get into it.
I mean, I really am starting to get the hang of it.
Funny stuff. Very dry, very simple. What makes it funny is the element of truth behind it, what makes it creepy is that you know the narrator is tired and doesn’t have time for jokes. Or perhaps the former is the latter and the latter is the former? I don’t know, now I’ve confused myself. Anyway, it doesn’t matterwhat the story reveals and how Alim seems to express it so effortlessly is what counts. Our narrator tells us he killed his first victim because he was called a “nigger,” he killed his second victim because he couldn’t stand working with, for, under this incredibly arrogant and prejudiced man who was one of the head lawyers in a law firm that had hired our brown-skinned narrator.
Any black person who has ever worked in an office setting or corporate environment instantly recognizes the sort of white male that Terry Apath is. This is where you know that the bond and anticipated audience of this story is black because of the casualness and simplicity unto which the story is relayed. As with the tradition of African American literature, the story is very oral and has a great deal of “signifying,” and radicalizing simply within the speech/text.
I point this out because I do find it important that black writers still approach their work in such a cool and naturally stated way. In an era of “Who is your audience?” and “No one will understand your references, people are not smart as they used to be,” it is refreshing that Alim invites the reader into his world, into his neurosis and doesn’t comment on what they may or may not understand. Instantly you are a confidante and this is what made some of the white listeners uncomfortable at the Book Party in February 2005, when portions of the book were read in public. Not that anyone objected, no.
White people will never object to anything considered “artistic,” within a black or mixed milieu for fear of being labeled racist or a “phony liberal.” They will just roll their eyes, squirm, or smirkas if to say “That is sooo hateful, I could never…! I’m more developed than you, gosh you people with your Superfly-Shaft-Badass-anger. I’ve seen it all before! I’m Jewish and I don’t write stories or fantasize about killing Germans or Arabs!”
First of all that would be a lame excuse and a ridiculous comparison. But of course they don’t have to write about anything similarwhite people take out all their aggression directly. They don’t have to write stories, they can blow up countries. They don’t believe in art or therapy and when they they dothey site only musical artists. As if to imply that music is “free” from any political-social relevance…I am obviously generalizing here to make a very serious point.
Most Americans (particularly the young white American) miss the point when evaluating or simply even reading real African American fiction. It would be misleading, however, to imply that Alim writing for white people. He isn’t. And when he does he makes it clear that he is. But this problem infiltrates black readers’ minds as well as whites. There shouldn’t be a need to specify or diffuse either way but we all know history and the way this world works.
My point: if White Americans aren’t going to read their masters or really dig into their own problemsthe way Bob Dylan and Paul Simon did thirty-five years ago, then they had better read and taste the folk art of the Black American if they want to begin to understand their country, their world, their historytheir neurosis.
Alim doesn’t write about Pimps in the street and spray “hip” derogatory terms throughout his work. He’s beyond that, even though it is what is expected from Black writers and filmmakers. He doesn’t exploit “blackness,” women, or the so-called “urban jungle.” His grievances are real. He reveals the scowl behind the grin, the anger that is just below the surface.
But for all his genuineness, no one seems to pay attention to Alim or several other artists working within the same mix. Folks will say: “Well, he’s got no audience, yet cause he hasn’t been on TV or featured on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section of the NY Times, or he hasn’t debut with some rising Pop Star-Gangster-Wanna-be-Hip Hop buffoon. Lies and excuses, my friends. But the reason this cuts deep is because being a theater artist almost lends itself to invisibility.
Besides the Lincoln Center effete crowd and a few organizations, and a handful of WASPS in New England or Boston or even in good old “progressive” San Franciscothe theater means very little to people. Artists or otherwise. I often wonder if maybe that’s not the way it has always been.
For those who believe playwright Suzan Lori-Parks or David Mamet still have any true power or progressive instincts on stagethey are holding worthless promissory notes. Mamet imitates himself, Parks cashes in on what the mainstream audiences will expect her to turn in or evaluate particularly as an African American woman. Neither is of the current state of consciousness emanating within the arts (whatever is left of it, that is) and both are very comfortable.
Those looking for the real news, the truthful insights, and the still untamed social and political observations should read Alim’s work and go undergroundwherever that is. I guarantee the monologues and theatrical texts that Alim offers are a thousand times purer, personal, and poetic than anything in the mainstream theater or poetry houses. Because, similarly, if Russell Simmons destroyed comedy with Def Jam Comedy (as Bernie Mac claims he did) then he absolutely murdered poetry with his Def Jam Poetry.
Nowadays, it is typical and passe’ to hear some Black or Latino or East Asian or Middle Eastern poet or some gay white chick with piercings get on stage and whine (these people don’t even know how to scream) about racism, sexism, the War in Iraqall in familiar and rhetorical cadences, with a wink, nod, and bow to the word(s) “my nigga,” “George Bush-shit,” and/or something to do with “pussy-bush-the ghetto-the street-Gucci-Donna Karan-Park Ave-USA-” Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Empty. It’s all empty. Such is the nature of pop. Particularly when it is popular to assume a stance of righteous anger. Alim himself is not innocent of any of these popular and accepted streams of current poetry, but Alim is not a poseur. He’s been to the gutter and back. He’s lived and as much as he loves poetry, even he has admitted thatsimilar to the state of hip hop and Pop musicthe poetry in NYC scene is dead. It is dead because it has been co-opted.
Poetry, like the theater, is dead because it still sells itself out to pimps who want to rape it. Poets continue to bend over (like their cousinsthe independent filmmakers) and completely ignore their pride, talent, and soul. Why should poets perform on main stage theaters, why should filmmakers want their films to be seen in malls? Is that the most we can achieve and hope for? Wouldn’t we rather gather in someone’s intimate apartment and create our own studio? Are artists that contemptuous of each other that we really can’t work together because we all just want to be richer than each other and get revenge on our un-supportive families or patronizing bosses or apathetic teachers?
The poets of the night are deadbecause they want to be. They drop their pants, grab their ankles and give up any virtue or innocence left. They are like victims who beg to be raped and then cry when someone tells them “Are you nuts? You need to do something about this! You need to call the police!”
Keeping that in mind, read the following and imagine it is the last scene of a play. Imagine you saw every meretricious slice of nonsense on Broadway, then got a headache from the imposters Off-Broadway. You went home, vomited, felt a lot better and swore to yourself over that toilet-bowl that you would never go “drinking” again. A friend begs you (or if you have no friends imagine a little angel flies into your face) to go and read/see Alim’s work and “taste” something new. You go, taste it, and realize maybe even half-way throughthat what you are drinking ain’t new, it’s just what most of us under 40 are constantly denied: truth within the arts.
So, imagine: you are seated somewhere and it is dark. There is a slight chill that runs up your spine. There are maybe twenty people in this audience. Under the moon, the stage lights flash up from belowthey are dim and but we see our Narrator clearlybecause we experience something almost foreign in its brightness. The lights slowly dim as our Narrator admits (perhaps in a choked up whisper):
Terry was fun to kill; killing the landlord was out of anger and I just did it because. It was kind of funny, technically speaking I am not sure if it was on the same day because the Arabs start their day in the dark at 12 am. But, as you already know the landlord was Jewish, and for the life of me I don’t know when they start their day. But since her Jewishness was incidental to the cause of her death, I guess it didn’t really matter. I just strangled her for no more than a minute or two. I had on the same blue-green Isotoner gloves that I strangled Terry with.
Our man tries to smile, but can’t. He looks at his gloves, lights a cigarette, and looks out into the audience. Blackout.
Note: This is the first part of an essay in Two Parts by
. Originally reviewed March 5, 2005, Revised for publication July 29, 2005 © Copyright 7/29/05
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summer hill seven
inspiration for a neu generation ®
Summer Hill Seven (f.k.a. Alím Ákbar) author, actor, artist, and attorney. Although raised in Albany, NY and Trenton, NJ, he has resided throughout the United States in various cities including Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Newark (Delaware and N.J.) and currently New York City. He graduated, second in his class, from the historically significant Sister Clara Muhammad School in Philadelphia, PA, the oldest school in the United States for the training of Muslim students.
He began lecturing in jails and correctional facilities while still in high school. Seven graduated with honors from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey with a B.A. in Political Science and New York University School of Law, where he was the National Director of Community Service for the National Black Law Students Association. He was an adjunct professor in African American Studies at the City University of New York. Currently he is affiliated with the University of Delawares Professional Theatre Training Program.
Summer began a career as a professional actor while in law school when he realized the theater was a powerful tool for social change. He has created roles for both stage and screen. While a law student he traveled with a national tour of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Soldiers Story. He created the role of Husband in the mid-west regional premier of John Henry Redwoods, The Old Settler at the Phoenix Theater (Eugene ONeil Award).
Seven just directed his first film entitled A Poets Pilgrimage, a short film about a law student who decides to leave law school after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 to pursue his dream of becoming a poet. Seven is currently touring the United States with A Poets Pilgrimage and reading from his first book, Notes of a Neurotic! Included in this volume are five of his plays, which have received world-premiere productions in off-off-Broadway theatres in New York City.
Summer is also the talented director of Platanos & Collard Greens, written by the groundbreaking hip-hop novelist and playwright, David Lamb. Platanos & Collard Greens opened in the summer of 2003 and continues to play to sold-out audiences in New York City while simultaneously touring college campuses throughout the United States.
Notwithstanding his commitment to theater as a positive source of personal and social growth, Summer Hill Seven has practiced both commercial and public interest law. In particular: public finance, bankruptcy, consumer advocacy and housing discrimination.
An entertaining and inspirational speaker, Summer Hill Seven hosts a weekly internet radio show on WVUD 2: www.wvud.org and speaks frequently on college campuses throughout the United States. Notes of a Neurotic is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Authorhouse.com. HANG TIME: A Poetic Memoir!, his latest book is scheduled to be released during Kwanzaa 2006.
The entire concept of Summer Hill Seven is a dynamic upholding of the artists mythic-journey in this world and the conundrum he faces when the commercial world tries to spread its claws over cultural expression and art. It is a scary and relevant theme in our lives not because we can see through the façade of the co-opting of art by corporations but because it has simply always been this way. Dennis Leroy Moore, Filmmaker, As An Act of Protest
Professor Alím Ákbar began his lecture in a unique manner that in effect bound his audience to intellectually participate for the next hour and fifteen minutes in a joint learning and discussion experience. Prof. Ákbar then challenged his students by effectively reciting a short passage from the Koran in Arabic. His point was to demonstrate that while there is much concern about the role of religion in contemporary international politics, there is also poetry and history in religious text that one is not generally familiar with. I could not detect any weaknesses in Prof. Akbars presentation. My overall assessment of Prof. Ákbar is that he is an above average orator, well organized, maintains the interest of his audience and is very knowledgeable in the area of African American history. Dr. Kwando Kinshasa, City University of New York
Last Thursday I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a one man show, depicting some of the many great poems of Langston Hughes. At first one might be under the mistaken impression that this will be a long, drawn out, simple verse by verse reading of Mr. Hughes works, but I am glad to say it was anything but. Each rendition of poetry was accompanied by music that seemed to give it a life of its own. The narrator, actor/professor Alim Akbar, read Langstons poems as if they were truly his own, as if he could see into the heart and the mind of the man himself. With great skill the artist managed to make the audience feel an actual part of the process. These poems were their life and their work. You may have said to yourself at the beginning of this play that the poetry of Langston Hughes, work of art that they are, are classics, there is no getting better for them. But I think that by the end of the play you may well agree that it just might just have. Ari-ayana Rodway, John Jay College, NYC
The play was perfect. Jan Folvarsky, CUNY, NYC
Any serious student of the theatre should read his highly thoughtful and thought-provoking book.Professor Randy Hertz, NYU School of Law
Akbars Summer Hill Seven is powerfully funny and provocative.David Lamb, author of Do Platanos Go Wit Collard Greens?
Summer Hill Seven is brilliant. Exciting!Laurence Holder, author of Renaissance Solos
In Notes of a Neurotic, the author provides poetry, essays and plays that are as bombastic as the writings of Amiri Baraka as piercing as Miguel Pinero and as poetic as Paul Laurence Dunbar often all in the same sentence. In addition to the entertainment and intellectual value, these Notes of a Neurotic! are specifically designed to provide enrichment to the reader, the speaker and the writer of these words.AuthorHouse
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy
This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color.
There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literarySchool Library Journal
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
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Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and 60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its lost decades, a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding schoolthe government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated.
In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghanas recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening. As he writes: The key to Africas survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives. The book draws to a close as the authors professional life begins.
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By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Jeffers derives her form and jaunty, deal-with-it attitude from the blues, an American tradition that beats back despair with wit, élan, and grace. Artfully distilled, Jeffers’ musical and forthright lyrics cut to the chase in their depictions of self-destructive love, treacherous family life, and sexual passion turned oppressive or violent. She calls on her mentors, soulful musicians such as Dinah Washington, James Brown, John Coltrane, and Aretha Franklin, for guidance, then, sustained by their voices, segues into vivid imaginings of the inner lives of biblical figures such as Sarah, Hagar, and Lot’s wife; a man about to be lynched; and a former slave bravely attending college. And whether she’s singing the “battered blues” or critiquing Hollywood’s depiction of slavery, Jeffers is questioning the nature and presence of God. Booklist
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 26 July 2012